The Blind Shake may be one of the last remaining no-frills, no nonsense, no bullshit post-punk bands. The Minneapolis trio has made their bones by embodying and manipulating the what-you-see-is-what-you-get ethos. Not that there isn’t some depth to what they present up front, rather it’s like they know just how much personality to inject into a song to make it rumble with its own weird identity.
Guitarists/vocalists Mike and Jim Blaha are two siblings who seem to be of one mind, musically speaking. Their songs fall away from them like leaves falling off of trees, with a grace and naturalness that belies their raggedy sound. The noise they generate is never just cacophony, but always has an underlying subtext of tunefulness. Here they join forces for the second time with a contrarian guitar experimentalist and noise-rock purveyor named Michael Yonkers. (In 2007 they released an album together entitled Carbohydrates, Hydrocarbons.)
Of the 13 songs on this split recording eight are collaborative efforts, and five are the Blind Shake sans Yonkers. The first thing that jumps out at you regarding the collaborative material is that there isn’t enough grit in the guitars or enough dirt in the amps. There are three guitars at work here and yet they never take over a song and blast it to smithereens as they should. Songs like “I Want To Tell You” and “Cold Town” have some freakish college radio likeability, but they sound way too contrived in their purposeful quirkiness.
The second thing that jumps out is Yonker’s voice. He’s, quite frankly, an awful singer, and that’s partly intentional, but his vocals are mostly just off-key, and not in a good way. That might be okay if it wasn’t for the fact that he makes every song sound like a detuned mess. It’s as if he’s purposely singing badly so as not to make any of it seem too “indie-rock” clean. On their own songs, The Blind Shake manage some twists and turns that are worth hearing, like on the album closer, “Birdo,” but nothing here approaches the level of the songs on their previous album. I honestly want to say something positive about this record, because TBS deserves the good press, but all I can come up with is, at least they didn’t let Michael sing on their songs. Sorry, that’s all I got.